Want to be the best lead player in town? Welcome to the club! Who doesn’t want to bring the house down with an amazing guitar solo?  A great solo is easy if you just relax into it, fit in with the song and don’t try to overplay. Your job is to take things to another level with your instrument and set up the listener for the return of the vocal or main theme.

Most casual listeners are more into the vocal hook and the chorus and all that “other” stuff going on in the song. Your solo should be every bit as exciting or important to the song as the hook. If you are really good, the solo can actually become the hook!  If you are a lead guitarist you can’t wait for that solo to come around so you can try to do just that – hook the listener.

Here is a quick list of seven things that might help inspire you to take your soloing skills to another level.

1) When you Bend a String, Bend Their Minds.

Bending a string is by nature a strange sounding thing. It really cannot be duplicated by any other instrument. Embrace the strangeness! Make the most of it by really listening to what is happening when you do your bends. Are you trying to bend a half step, a whole step, a step and a half, an entire whole step, more? Maybe your want something in-between (quarter tone). Is it a slow bend or a quick bend? Do you want to hit another note while bending the first or vice-versa? (oblique bend). Great string bending technique can really help a solo to shine if it is done in tune (or even if it is not, if that is your intention). Above all, feel the emotion that you want to convey with the bend and don’t hold back.  Put every ounce of energy into it and you will be surprised at the wide range of expression you can achieve if you experiment with different degrees of bending.

2) Leave Some Space in the Solo.

Some players will squeeze off rapid fire sixteenth notes for an entire solo – every time. This can work when and if  a song calls for it, but most often you will want to leave some air in the solo so that your bandmates can throw in some tasty fills in-between your phrases. Listeners don’t care how many notes you can play in a minute.  Make a statement, let it breathe, then make another statement.

3) Tell a Story

This follows from the previous tip. Storytelling is not just for the singer. Your solo is a story within a story. Give it a beginning, a middle, and an end. This takes a little imagination and practice, but just being aware that your are trying to tell a story can make it start to happen for you. You don’t want to over-think this just keep it in the back of your mind. I could write a book on this concept (and maybe I will). You will soon find that your solos are “going somewhere”.

4) Use Repetition

This is the best advice I ever got, even though I’m not sure I “got it” from anywhere specific. I think I just picked up from years of listening and going to concerts that repetition in a solo works miracles. When I am performing an extended solo and the crowd seems a little tame, I will take a phrase and just keep repeating it over and over for a while. Pretty soon they are paying attention and then they are putting down their drinks, and before you know it  they are standing up and cheering. I’m not doing anything that special – just riffing on a short six note phrase over and over. It hypnotizes people I swear. Try it.

5) Leave the Planet, Then Come Back

If you really want to bend their minds try using a scale (or just a single note) that you know to be “wrong” and just  go for it. You will find that no matter how out of tune it is, it will get attention. Stay with it long enough to establish the fact that you know it sounds “out there” and you are doing it on purpose. You don’t want people to think that you just suddenly went tone deaf. After you have achieved the amount of “outness” that you want, resolve the phrase with a root note. This effect will be as powerful as your commitment to the concept is, so if you are going to do it, don’t be shy about it!

6) Throw in Some Chords

This technique requires that you really know the chord progression that is underneath your solo. (You should always know the chords well anyway). Try this: in the middle of your single note playing, start riffing on the chords that the band is playing. For example, if the chord progression is Am, C, F , Em, you would simple take one of those cycles and either arpeggiate the chords or play octaves or power chords (fifths) for a partial or a complete cycle. Then return to you single note stuff. This has a similar effect to using repetition. It is an attention getter because the listeners think you are coming back to a verse or chorus and then you blast back into your solo.

7) Smile

This one sounds crazy but it works – and it’s good for  you. Take  your eyes off your guitar, keep playing, look out, smile and make eye contact with the crowd. Sometimes you can’t even see the crowd because the stage lights are in your eyes, but do it anyway. You will be amazed at how people respond to this. They think that you are playing just for them and if you are any kind of musician of course you are! Besides life is too short to be grimacing all the time! Try to make every solo memorable for yourself and for your fans.

I hope these tips have given you something to think about. Do you have any tips you would like to add? Feel free to post a comment and include your ideas. I’d love to hear them!

If you’re interested in more of my music writing, you might want to check out these eBooks I recently released:


Grow, Teach, Repeat: The Art of Learning & Teaching Guitar – by M.J Murphy  at Amazon.com

Choosing Notes: Creativity, Ear Training & Literacy for All Musicians –  by M.J Murphy at Amazon.com

Also available at Barnes & Noble website!

Grow, Teach, Repeat eBook at B&N.com
Choosing Notes eBook at B&N.com